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Measuring Content Marketing Success with Google Analytics

If you want to use content marketing techniques to find, enthuse, and retain your customers, you will also want to know whether you are accomplishing these goals.

Content marketing is a marketing technique that can be used to track a variety of goals. Take a look at blogs and professional journals, and you will notice that online marketing experts keep coming up with a very special definition of content marketing. If you try to correlate their definition with your approach, you are likely to ask yourself: am I really doing this right?

Don't let yourself get confused! If your content marketing strategy is helping you accomplish the goals you have defined for your business, then you are doing it right. But you must regularly and thoroughly track whether you are accomplishing your goals. In this post, I will show you how Google Analytics can help you.

If you are going to base your optimization and budgeting decisions on Google Analytics reports, you must be able to have confidence in the figures in these reports. You will therefore have to make sure that Google Analytics has been implemented correctly on your website.

There are two crucial aspects to be considered here.

The legal aspect demands that the deployment of Google Analytics conforms to data protection laws. The technical aspect demands a clean implementation of tracking codes in the website source code. All content in this post presupposes that both these aspects have been successfully addressed. If you are not sure, search on the internet or seek expert help.

Making Your Marketing Goals Measurable in Google Analytics

Independent of the explicit goals that you track with your content marketing activities, every website has general goals. These general goals would have been defined when the website was conceived. Google Analytics should be used to monitor whether these general goals are being accomplished.

In an online shop, the goal is crystal clear: completed sales transactions. The goal that we create in the Analytics Data view is to reach the "Thank you for your purchase" page. The path from shopping cart to the ''thank you'' page is tracked using funnel analysis. Details on user behavior in the shopping cart - check out process help optimize the individual steps in the "Check Out" transaction.

If your website offers services, then the establishment of contact (the generation of new "leads") is surely the goal. Website visitors can trigger this goal and it can be accomplished by different actions: sending in a contact form, clicking an email address or telephone number, or downloading a PDF form.

Alongside these "hard" goals, there are some interesting "soft" goals. Quite often they pave the way for accomplishing a "hard" goal - content marketing activities can be aligned to "soft" goals: subscribing to a newsletter, downloading a white paper, or calling specific pages of a website.

When setting up a goal in Google Analytics, you will have to give the goal value. Value here refers to the monetary value – by accomplishing this goal, how much money will your business earn? If you are not able to figure this out by yourself, seek help. Your tax consultant, accountant, colleagues from auditing, or your boss will know more.

Expert Tip: If there is no information on the goal value for every accomplished goal, many Google Analytics reports won’t be very useful

Definition of In-market Segments, Target Groups, and Personas

If your content marketing activities are to work, it must be clear which in-market segments and target audiences are being catered to. You can use Google Analytics to observe how exactly your content marketing activities are reaching these groups.

Many marketing teams define in-market segments and target audiences as personas. A persona is often a combination of geographic, demographic characteristics, and affinities. It is not always easy to define a persona as it is in the easy example I am giving below in "Young Mothers under 24." Nevertheless, we must try to look at the success of content marketing actions in Google Analytics in relation to these personas.

Google Analytics allows you to segment website traffic. You can build a segment from

1. Age option "18-24"

2. Gender option "Female"

3. In-Market Segment contains "baby"

and save it under an appropriate name, then look at every report in Google Analytics with a view toward this in-market segment or target audience "Young Mothers under 24" (Figure 1).

Figure_2-4 Google Analytics

Figure 1: Creating Segments in Google Analytics

If we just look at the traffic generated by "All Users" of a website, it offers very little insight for in-market segment and target audience-oriented online marketing. Marketing activities can be evaluated for specific content only when it is clear how the targeted in-market segments and target audience are interacting with the content.

Special Goals of Content Marketing Activities and Their Tracking

Depending on what you are using content marketing for, different Google Analytics reports can be used to evaluate your success. Three broad interrelated orientations can be defined:

1. Content marketing for brand building, brand extension, and market positioning

2. Content marketing for customer retention and as part of customer service

3. Content marketing with performance orientation for customer acquisition and/or search engine optimization.

1. Analyzing brand building, brand extension, and market positioning with Google Analytics

If you are building a brand and continuously extending its reach, this should be reflected in an increase in direct type-in website visits and brand traffic from search engines like Google and Bing. The adverts for individual brands and the company name are often displayed and clicked on.

Parts of this "Brand Traffic" can be identified in Google Analytics. In Channel Grouping (Figure 2 - Admin > View > Custom Channel Groupings), paid traffic can be categorized as generic and brand-related. This unfortunately is not possible for a large amount of unpaid (organic) traffic. Google does not provide the keyword data required for this. Other search engines are already doing this - but their contribution to total organic traffic in many cases is very low.

Figure_3-1 Google Analytics

Figure 2: Custom Channel Groupings

Landing pages also serve as an indicator for a brand-related site visit. If users are visiting the "About Us" page or pages related to "brand marketing" activities, you can attribute all these website sessions to content marketing activities for brand building and the strengthening of market scope.

Reports at the channel level can often be found in the "Overview" pages. You can also build an appropriate segment to look at such traffic (for example, brand landing pages traffic).

Expert Tip: To be able to evaluate Google Analytics figures realistically, you must compare fairly. Looking at values for the same period in the previous year has proved to be effective!

Interesting dimensions and metrics for content marketing

Thanks to all the ground work done for implementing Google Analytics Tracking, we can now look at some interesting metrics. These include bounce rate, average time on page, number of pages visited per session, and successful goal conversion with goal values in Dollars as well as Goal Conversion Rate - all in comparison to values from the previous year and in comparison, to the channel and traffic sources.

It is never enough to compare just one metric - say bounce rate, Goal Conversion Rate, or time on site. Percentage values are also not very helpful. Absolute values and the context in which the figures are generated must likewise be given importance. If these aspects are ignored, it results in sensational metrics like a 50% goal conversion rate with just 2 sessions and 1 conversion. Or dozens of conversions from one channel may mean nothing if the paid traffic has been purchased at a very high price.

Expert Tip: A thorough evaluation of metrics is also necessary for content seeding activities in social channels. Whenever you share your content in Facebook, Yelp or other social networks, the website traffic originating from these places is displayed in Google Analytics. The area where these traffic reports can be found is called "Social Networks" (Figure 3).

Figure_4-2 Google Analytics

Figure 3: Analytics report on Traffic from Social Networks

Furthermore, there are your own traffic channels that are completely in your control. One example of such a channel could be the email newsletters you send, as well as paid traffic from sources other than AdWords and Bing-Ads, for example the sponsoring banner in forums and blogs that are relevant to the target audience. Google Analytics can also evaluate entire marketing campaigns that may include offline advertising activities.

Expert Tip: If you particularly want to evaluate your Google-AdWords advertisement, Google Analytics provides answers to nearly all questions in specially created AdWords reports – provided Google Analytics and AdWords have been clearly linked.

For all non-Google channels, a clear separation must be made using campaign parameters. It also means paid traffic from Bing-Ads, ads from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram advertisement. Google offers the "Campaign URL Builder" (Figure 4) as a tool to add parameters to URLs that can be tracked in Analytics. But before simply going ahead without a plan, I would advise creating a firm campaign matrix with information on the campaigns, sources and mediums.

You can easily find good Excel templates on the internet that meets your needs and that can be used for a clever campaign matrix.

Figure_5-2 Google Analytics

Figure 4: The campaign URL builder

Campaign tracking should be done meticulously. If, for example, you are not using any campaign parameters for email newsletters, the newsletter traffic will not be recognized by Google Analytics and will be associated with the "Direct" channel. And traffic from Facebook ads will get pooled with organic traffic from the social network.

If you are analyzing the data, please look at only relevant traffic - the keyword being "segments". Do not forget to compare with previous year values and never use just one metric to base your decisions on. An example: 5% Goal Conversion Rate sounds good when you first hear it ... but it has no value if the 5% is from 1 conversion of 20 visitors to a website that receives 120,000 visits per month.

Expert Tip: The use of campaign parameters is suitable only for traffic coming in from external sources. Therefore, internal link-clicks that direct from one page of your website to another should not be analyzed that way. Parameters would always “force” the start of a new Analytics session.

2. Measuring the success of online customer service and online customer retention

If you support customer service and customer retention above all through your content marketing activities, you are perhaps building communities. The exchange with customers is important to you. Brand confidence should be extended; the authority the brand has for its "subject matter" should be strengthened. You and your colleagues perhaps do this by taking part in discussions in forums and, in some cases, also creating your own forums.

In addition to communication with customers, you provide them with Service and FAQ areas in the website or lessen the load on your call center agents with "How To" videos on YouTube.

The traffic from these external communities and forums are found in Google Analytics in Referral reports (main menu "Acquisition"). Using a secondary dimension "Source/Medium" the Landing Pages report (Main menu "Behavior") is appropriate for analyzing this traffic. To make it meaningful, here too I will analyze only the relevant traffic, compare it against values from suitable time periods, and use multiple metrics.

Many users of Analytics focus their attention on two percentage-based metrics: the bounce rate and the proportion of new users in visitors from specific sources. Sorting this sensibly is not at all an easy task.

When searching for landing pages with high bounce rates or sources with really high numbers of new users, it becomes very quickly apparent: if we simply sort here via the column overview; the table displays only pages with little inbound traffic. But we want to make weak performing pages with high traffic visible - we do this using the "weighted" sort feature in the Google Analytics reports.

If one wishes to track how the visitors move from page to page, then the "All Pages" report under menu option "Behavior" comes in handy. If we switch from "Explorer" view to "Navigation Overview," for each page we get the entry and exit information, the previous and next pages. Does this click behavior align with the planned website usage strategy?

Yet another important aspect: in the "All Pages" report, Google Analytics calculates for each page the interesting metric "page value." When this metric is sorted in descending order, you see all the pages that have contributed in particular to transactions and revenues. It is therefore very important to always keep these pages of your website available and up to date. The "page value" metric allows us to set priorities.

If you want to do a deep analysis of repeat customers to your website, you can look at your customers' long-term loyalty in the "Frequency and Recency" reports as well as "Engagement" reports under the main menu option "Audience". These loyalty reports answer the following questions:

  • How often are users returning?

  • After how many days?

  • How long do their visits last?

  • How many pages are viewed on average per visit?

By focusing on important segments and comparing with previous year values, we also learn from these Google Analytics reports how content develops.

3. Assessing performance-oriented content marketing with Google Analytics

Performance-driven content marketing can actually follow different goals. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts use content marketing methods to improve the digital retrievability of internet services. If one has a broader responsibility, they will want to cover the entire customer journey with content marketing activities.

Let us, however, keep to content marketing for SEOs. Its goal is to significantly improve page ranking in various search engines - building links is often one of the ways to accomplish that goal. If in the course of this Link Building activity, links get formed that are actually clicked on by users, you can see these successful links in the "Source/Medium" and "Referrals" areas.

All back links that remain without any traffic cannot be detected with Google Analytics. Whether one should even build such links and whether they influence the website's ranking is not examined in detail at this point. If, however, you want to "keep a tab" on them, it is possible only with an external tool, such as, for example the Google Search Console.

Everything gets more complicated if you also have to keep an eye on co-occurrences and co-citations. References without links can impact the ranking in search engines. But without links, traffic does not get recognized – and without incoming traffic, there can be no analysis with Google Analytics. External Web Monitoring Systems such as Google Alerts come in handy in this situation.

If the ranking in the search results pages goes well, then the analysis of traffic from various search engines gets very interesting. When doing this you will realize that not every search engine is labeled with the medium “organic” in your Google Analytics reports.

The correct mapping of search engine traffic to the "organic search" channel is, however, very important. Niche search engines like DuckDuckGo are unfortunately and incorrectly designated as "referral". This must be corrected manually at the time of creating this entry. The settings for "Organic Search Sources" (Figure 5) can be found in the “Admin” area on the property level under "Tracking Info". There are some clever blog posts in the world wide web that help provide a solution to this task.

Figure_7-2 Google Analytics

Figure 5: Link sources of the organic search to the suitable medium

If you are particularly interested in website performance in Google search results pages, then the detailed reports in Acquisition > Search Console will help you. Here you can find out about the performance of each page of a website in Google. In this report, Google Analytics actually couples "Search Console" data with behavior and conversion values from Analytics.

Google Analytics provides the report "Search Console" > Queries with a list of search queries which brought your website into the Google search results, how often it happened, how many clicks occurred, and the average position of your website in these search results.

Google Analytics does not provide so much data for ranking in other search engines. But it may be worth taking a look at the report in Acquisition > Campaigns > "Organic Keywords." By using the secondary dimension "Source/Medium" one can, at least for some of the other search engines, get to know the search queries there that have driven inbound traffic to the website. The secondary dimension "landing page" helps you understand which pages in these search engines may have been ranked intelligently.

Online marketing experts with wider responsibilities will also look at the "new users" rate, because performance-oriented approaches generally have more customers, more revenues, and more profits as the goal. That is why they also look at the accomplishment of micro goals that have been set as “Analytics events”, in addition to tracking the macro goals of a website like leads and sales closures.

Goal accomplishment can be checked in the main menu "Conversions." Thanks to the goal value that has been set, many figures here are in Dollars and cents. If you look at these reports also with relevant segments, compare the values with those from the previous year and take into account multiple metrics, you can draw inferences for success and failure with stunning precision.


Irrespective of your approach to content marketing, you will want to know whether your plan is working or not. Google Analytics provides you perfect answers to most of your questions on accomplishing goals.

In order for your analysis not to mislead you, you should have confidence in the figures in your Google Analytics Account. That is why we present here a task-list that you must absolutely finish before you begin to optimize your content marketing:

  • Ensure the website conforms to data protection laws

  • Implement Google Analytics code with all the required features

  • Set up Google Analytics Accounts completely with all administration levels

Google Analytics is a complex web analysis software. If you know what to do, you can have a lot of fun with the figures. It’s worth it – with every new insight it offers, your content marketing activities get better. Good luck!

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Published on Sep 1, 2017 by Sven Deutschländer